Not Alone in the Struggle: Supporting Mental Health in the Movement

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by Nettle with Contributing Writer & Editor Elan / EF! Newswire

Discovering the Earth First! movement and the Earth First! Journal can be a very liberating but also intense part of someone’s personal path in unplugging and unpacking from a destructive society that we are forced-fed from a young age to be complacent to and a part of. For new-comers and seasoned activists (including those returning after a hiatus) EF! action camps and regional meetings can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know many people, or what the term Security Culture means,… or own any camo gear.

It’s true, not all Earth First!ers are exactly alike. Not everyone identifies the same way. Folks are drawn to the movement from different geographical places, may they be urban or rural, as well as different subcultures. This is a good thing, and to foster the presence of all the individuals that are drawn to the no compromise, biocentric and direct action approach to protect the wild — and disrupt the business of planet killing operations — our movement has been expanding on safe(r) spaces at Earth First! action camps. Safe(r) spaces is a term that is used to express the intention and commitment a community or gathering of people have to create space absent of oppressive language and behaviors. 

These spaces, whether they be collective houses or action camps, are also places that are vocal about and encourage consent, good communication and spaces that make perpetrators and informants known and, usually, unwelcomed. But there’s more to creating safe(r) spaces. We need the heart and courage to expand these spaces to cultivate a healthy and thriving EF! movement. A movement that is able to attract people of all sorts of backgrounds, abilities, disabilities, identities and ages. Attracting people is one thing, but to keep folks returning and involved, it takes folks apart of various shared identity groups, as well as those who are more comfortable and familiar within EF!, to support the presence and function of safe(r) spaces. For some folks, it has a lot to do with mental health and the need to feel safe with folks who know what it is like to struggle with trauma or mental distress , in whatever state that may be for the individual — post-traumatic stress, anxiety, personality disorders, the list goes on.

Today, a lot of children and young people are being diagnosed early on with mental
disorders that are being linked to nature deficiency — not having enough access or time
in and around nature. Hopefully those kids will find their way to the woods and rivers
some day, and fill a giant void that industrial civilization has carved in their heart. Until
then, let’s be sure we are creating space for every person in recovery from civilization at
our action camps when they are ready to join us on the frontlines!

At the 2012 Rondy some folks in the organizing crew who personally needed a warm and
inviting space for mental health created this incredible Wellness Center that not only
hosted the medic tent but always had a constant supply of hot tea and a fire going, there
was even a zine library with resources on consent, mental and physical health care. As a
de-centarlized movement of pro-active people it’s important that we collectively help to
create the spaces we need to feel safe and comfortable, such as the sober fire and
camping areas, Kid’s Camp, TWAC (Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp), meeting
and/or camping areas designated for POC (people of color), as well as handicap
accessible camps and toilets, whenever possible.

At the 2013 Rondy the heavy rainfall was starting to weigh on me. During one of the
anti-oppression workshops someone pointed out in the discussion that often in radical
spaces, much like the rest of the world, there is a lot of oppression around people who
struggle with their mental health. From that spark came a brilliant fire, we decided to
add a mental health discussion to the Rondy schedule and to our surprise 15 people
came out of the woodwork to sit on the soggy ground to listen and share. We arrived
with guarded hearts and left with open hearts, feeling more than ever that there was a
sense of support here, room for us to share and discuss what ails us, but also that we
could join the rest of camp feeling not alone in our struggles —which, in turn, makes us
stronger in the fight for the wild and our collective liberation.

At the 2014 Organizers’ Conference & Winter Rondy we hosted the first Mad Camp — a
camping area specifically for folks who struggle with and/or are present with their
mental health. It was amazing! So many of us felt like we had the support we needed to
stay focused in workshops, be social even when we were feeling anxious and connect
with folks with shared life experiences who know what it’s like to not feel ok in lots of
situations.

The name for Mad Camp was inspired by other radical mental health projects out there
like the Icarus Project and Mad Pride. We ain’t mad as in angry, y’all, we just want to
reclaim the words that society has been using against us to make us feel like we are a
problem. Folks involved in the initial workshop and Mad Camp talked extensively about
creating a language that resonates with our lived experience. Some of us used
“psychovariance” instead of mental illness or disorder, because it implies that our
experiences fall outside the range of what society deems “normal.” Accordingly, it means
that ourselves are not the problem, but that society tends to pathologize anyone who
doesn’t conform to its standard of “mental health.” These standards, unfortunately, also
exist in radical communities. For us to work on moving past this kind of oppressive
behavior there would need to be a collective and conscious shift in the ways we support
people’s variance.

With so many root causes of mental health problems and the varying ways our
psycho-emotional needs pervade our lives, it’s important that we don’t push folks out of
our communities and the EF! movement because of what they’re going through.
Compassion teaches us to be present, be active listeners, be healers and confidants to
our peers who have been harmed or are hurting from the battle of their mind. Our
collective compassion will lead us to the realization that when someone is in distress, it’s
a calling for mutual support and care. Sometimes “self-care” means “deal with your shit
yourself.” Ultimately, this mindset has, and will continue to, push people out of our
communities, a mathematical equation that over time does not help our movement
grow. In addition, that mentality invariably means greater pain and isolation. Usually
the best thing to do is simply to listen, and let others know they are not alone. If you
want to support someone whose mental health affects you personally, your collective or
affinity group, especially if you don’t struggle with your own mental health to the same
degree, I suggest you ask that person if there’s anything you can do to support them.

In conclusion: we can do this, we can grow as a movement in numbers, continue to be a
threat and a road block on the path of a destructive society, and we can learn how to
effectively support each other. Without the amazing folks who initiated the first TWAC
it’s true that some folks may have left this movement, never to return again. Let’s
continue to collectively create safe(r) spaces for all the folks drawn to the frontlines of
eco-defense and really have each other’s back in the struggle for a wild and free world
for us all to grow old in. Then let’s have a workshop on what an EF! retirement
community looks like (Rocking Chair Camp!)

2 thoughts on “Not Alone in the Struggle: Supporting Mental Health in the Movement

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